John Purroy Mitchel

John Purroy Mitchel, mayors of New York City

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John Purroy Mitchel

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John Purroy Mitchel (July 19, 1879 - July 6, 1918) was the mayor of New York from 1914 to 1917, and at age 34 the youngest ever; he was sometimes referred to as "The Boy Mayor of New York". His grandfather, John Mitchel, was a Presbyterian Young Irelander (Irish nationalist supporter), and a renowned writer and leader in the Irish independence movement. John Purroy Mitchel obtained his bachelors' degree from Columbia University in 1899 and graduated from New York Law School in 1901. He rose to prominence just five years later, for leading the investigation of Manhattan Borough President John F. Ahern and Bronx Borough President Louis Haffin. Both of the Borough Presidents were ejected from their posts as a result of a full investigation, including the murder of a Manhattan gambler named Herman Rosenthal, allegedly on the orders of New York Police Lieutenant Charles Becker resulting in the controversial impeachment of William Sulzer, the Governor of New York State, after Sulzer fell out with Tammany boss Charles Francis Murphy. The young Purroy Mitchel's reputation as a reformer garnered him the support of the anti-Tammany forces. In 1909, Mitchel was elected President of the Board of Alderman (an organization similar to the current City Council). Four years later, at the age of 34, Mitchel was elected Mayor on the Fusion (Party) slate, a grouping of Republicans, and Jewish and Protestant reformers. A genuine ecumenist, Purroy Mitchel fell out with much of the Irish Catholic establishment over his actions against corruption, and for his criticisms of the Church's involvement and favoritism in municipal politics, although Mitchel was a devout Catholic and had his own Jesuit chaplain. Mitchel's administration introduced widespread reforms, particularly in the Police Department, which had long been highly corrupt and which was cleaned up by Mitchel's Police Commissioner Arthur Wood. Mitchel's early popularity was soon dented, however, when Tammany Hall attacked a series of planned educational reforms, suggesting that they would make it impossible for poor Catholic children to receive a free education. After failing to get re-elected, Mitchel joined the Signal Corps Army Air service. He died thirteen days short of his thirty-ninth birthday, in a training accident in Louisiana, on July 6, 1918. Mitchel fell out of his aircraft at 500 feet and plummeted to the ground, dying instantly. It was thought that he had forgotten to fasten his seat belt. Mitchel Field (Mitchel Air Force Base) on Long Island was named for him in 1918 and is frequently misspelled, mistaken for being connected to Billy Mitchell.

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